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Beer 101

History of Beer

Beer is one of the oldest prepared beverages in the world. As the 3rd most widely consumed beverage, behind water and tea, it has a proud history that stretches back to the very dawn of civilization. The foundation of agriculture between 15,000 and 10,000 years ago in areas of the Middle East provided the first readily available supply of cereal grains needed for the brewing process. It is believed that stores of those grains, accidentally allowed to get wet and sit fallow, produced the first “brewed” beverage at the very dawn of civilization itself.

The earliest proven records of brewing have indicated that beer was being deliberately produced in Sumeria (in the area of modern day Iraq) approximately as far long ago as 4000 B.C. A 4000 year old Sumerian prayer to the goddess Ninkasi is the oldest recorded recipe for beer. The Babylonian king Hammurabi codified a method of beer rationing within his system of laws in the 2nd century B.C. Reliefs inside Egyptian tombs from 2400 B.C. pictorially depict the process of combining crushed barley and water, and fermenting the result. The Roman historians Pliny (1st century B.C.) and Tacitus (1st century A.D.) both record that the Germanic tribes on the outskirts of the Roman Empire were producing and consuming ale. Evidence of a fermented rice beverage has been found in China dating back to 7000 B.C., and the peoples of Meso America have fermented a beverage called pulque for more than 1000 years. Beer has been a part of the culture of people all over the world from time immemorial.

In prehistoric and ancient times, the process of brewing beer was primarily a domestic act. Each home was, in a way, its own microbrewery. During the Middle Ages, Roman Catholic monasteries began brewing beer on a larger scale as a craft. This tradition is still practiced in the same fashion today, and can be savored through any modern beers designated as “Trappist”. Producing Ales primarily through the Top Fermentation style, many monastic orders in many geographical areas across Europe produced their own distinct style of beer. In the 11th century A.D., German monks introduced hops to the brewing process as a flavor and preservative component. In the 13th century, with help from the cold climate and new breeds of yeast, some German brewers began utilizing the Bottom Fermentation method, and storing the beer they produced in cool caves during the summer months. We still call these Bottom Fermented beers Lagers today, because those original  brewers named their creation lagern (the German word for “to store”). In 1502, the German government instituted the Reinheitsgebot, the first beer purity law, dictating that the only acceptable ingredients for brewing were malted barley, malted wheat, hops and water. The European tradition for beer making, which we still follow today, was thus fully established. When the original settlers moved to the New World, they brought their beer tradition with them, and America developed its own beer tradition. 

The Industrial Revolution turned beer into a large and thriving business. Mechanization and new advances in technology (such as the thermometer, the hydrometer, and the saccharometer) allowed for better control over the brewing process and greater consistency in the beer produced. The advent of refrigeration and pasteurization allowed beer to be stored for longer periods of time, and shipped much farther from the brewery.

The 20th century saw the beer industry turn into a large scale industry. The strain of World Wars and American Prohibition led to the centralization of the beer industry into the hands of a smaller number of large scale breweries. The European, small scale brewing tradition continued on, and the 1990s saw an significant upsurge in the microbrewery industry in America.

The 21st century offers its beer drinkers a greater variety for taste and pleasure than any other time in history. Following along the great history from Sumeria to America, today’s beer drinker can get an ale or lager for any taste or occasion. From the smallest monastery in Belgium, to the biggest pilsner maker in St. Louis; from the international brewers across the globe, to the brewpub down the street, beer is a proud and undying part of our global culture and personal palate. Cheers.

What is beer?

Beer is an alcoholic beverage made with cereal grains (such as barley, wheat, rye, corn, or rice), water, and hops which are fermented through the addition of yeast. Of course, beer is much more than its simple ingredients. It is what brings friends together for a night on the town. It is what relaxes us after a hard day at the office. It is a perfect accompaniment to our favorite meals, and a distinct part of our American culture. Broadly speaking, there are 2 main categories of beer: Ales and Lagers. The distinction between the two lay mainly in the styles of yeast and temperatures used in the fermentation process.

What is a Lager?

A lager is any beer fermented with the yeast Saccharomyces Pastorianus aka Saccharomyces Carlsbergensis (sometimes called “pure yeast”). Lagers are fermented at lower temperatures than ales (50*F), and then stored for 30 days or more close to their freezing point. Lager production is sometimes called Bottom Fermentation, since the yeasts tend to collect at the base of the fermentor during the brewing process. Lagers possess a mellow, crisp character, and tend to be less fruity than ales. Though very often pale, lagers can range from very light all the way to black in color.

What is an Ale?

An ale is a beer fermented with any yeast other than Saccharomyces Pastorianus aka Saccharomyces Carlsbergensis. Ales are fermented at higher temperatures than lagers (59*-68*F) and get their character from the esters that are produced as a result. Ale production is often called Top Fermentation, because the yeasts used rise to the surface of the beer during the brewing process. Ales tend to have a fruity character and rich dimension. Ales range from pale all the way to opaque black in color.

Style Varieties

Of course, a trip to Half Time or our website will show that there a many more than 2 types of beer available to you. While Lager and Ale represent the main beer “families”, there are a vast number of styles within each of those categories. Each of these styles possesses its own unique flavor and character. The Brewers’ Association has named the following styles of beer as categories for the Great American Beer Festival. In an effort to make the site more manageable Half Time uses fewer styles. If you click on a particular Brewers’ Association style we’ll link you to our equivalent.



 Golden or Blonde Ale.

 German-Style Kölsch

 English-Style Summer Ale

 Classic English-Style Pale Ale

 English-Style India Pale Ale

 American-Style Pale Ale

 American-Style Strong Pale Ale

 American-Style India Pale Ale

 Imperial India Pale Ale

American-Style Amber/Red Ale

 Imperial Red Ale

 English-Style Mild Ale

     A. English-Style Pale Mild Ale

     B. English-Style Dark Mild Ale

Ordinary or Special Bitter

     A. Ordinary Bitter

     B. Special Bitter

Extra Special Bitter or Strong Bitter

     A. English-Style Strong Bitter

     B. American-Style Strong Bitter

 Scottish-Style Ale

     A. Scottish-Style Light Ale

     B. Scottish-Style Heavy Ale

     C. Scottish-Style Export Ale

Irish-Style Red Ale

English-Style Brown Ale

American-Style Brown Ale

German-Style Altbier

German-Style Sour Ale

     A. Berliner-Style Weisse

     B. Leipzig-Style Gose

South German-Style Hefeweizen

German-Style Wheat Ale

South German-Style Kristal Weizen

South German-Style Dunkel Weizen/Dunkel



South German-Style Weizenbock/Weissbock

Belgian-Style Witbier

French- and Belgian-Style Saison

     A. Belgian-Style Blonde Ale

     B. Belgian-Style Pale Ale

     C. French-Style Bière de Garde

     D.: Belgian-Style Table Beer

     E. Other Belgian- and French-Style Ale

Belgian-Style Lambic or Sour Ale

     A. Belgian-Style Lambic

     B. Belgian-Style Gueuze Lambic

     C. Belgian-Style Fruit Lambic

     D. Belgian-Style Flanders/Oud Bruin      or Oud Red Ale

     E. Subcategory: Other Belgian-Style Sour Ale

Belgian-Style Abbey Ale

     A. Subcategory: Belgian-Style Dubbel

     B. Subcategory: Belgian-Style Tripel

     C. Subcategory: Other Belgian-Style Abbey Ale

Belgian-Style Strong Specialty Ale

Brown Porter

Robust Porter

Classic Irish-Style Dry Stout

Foreign-Style Stout

American-Style Stout

Sweet Stout

Oatmeal Stout

Imperial Stout

Scotch Ale

Old Ale or Strong Ale

Barley Wine-Style Ale

International-Style Pilsener

German-Style Pilsener

Bohemian-Style Pilsener

Munich-Style Helles

Dortmunder or German-Style Oktoberfest

American-Style Light Lager

     A. Light (Low Cal)

     B. Low-(Carbohydrate)

American-Style Lager or Premium Lager

     A. Subcategory American-Style Lager

     B. Subcategory American-Style Premium Lager

American-Style Specialty Lager

    A. Subcategory American-Style Pilsener

    B. Subcategory American-Style Ice Lager

    C. Subcategory American-Style Malt Liquor

Vienna-Style Lager

German-Style Märzen

American-Style Amber Lager

     A. Amber Lager

     B. California Common Beer

C. American-Style


European-Style Dunkel

American-Style Dark Lager

German-Style Schwarzbier


     A. Traditional German-Style Bock

     B. German-Style Heller Bock/Maibock

German-Style Doppelbock or Eisbock

     A. German-Style Doppelbock

     B. German-Style Eisbock

Baltic-Style Porter


Malted Wheat and Barely mix with hot water in the mash tun.Temperature activates enzymes that break down the starch in the malted grain to more simple sugars. The liquid, now called wort approximates the consistency of oatmeal.

Vor Lauf

Malted Wheat and Barely mix with hot water in the mash tun.Temperature activates enzymes that break down the starch in the malted grain to more simple sugars. The liquid, now called wort approximates the consistency of oatmeal.

Sparge / Lauter

Hot water is added over top of the mash, washing the grains of any sweetness still clinging to them. As hot water is added to the top of the mash liquid it is being drawn from the bottom and redirected to the kettle.


Once the correct volume of liquid is reached in the kettle the wort is allowed to boil. This helps unwanted proteins still present in the wort to coagulate and drop out. It is at this point, typically, that hops are added. Traditionally, hops added at the beginning of the boil bitter the beer while hops added at the end add aroma.


Once the wort has been boiled for times ranging 45-120 minutes, a whirlpool is created in the kettle. As the wort spins, coagulated proteins and hop residue are pulled to the center by centrifugal force. They collect in the cone of the kettle and are discarded.


Once the whirlpool is stopped, the wort is allowed to spin for about 15 minutes (times may vary). During this time proteins and spent hops continue to fall out of the beer.

Heat Exchange

Once rested the wort is directed from the kettle to the fermentor. Since hot wort will kill yeast, it must be quickly cooled. This can be done a number of ways. A common one is to run the hot wort through a heat exchanger.

Storing And Pouring


Oxygen and Sunlight are the mortal enemies of beer. The better a beer is packaged, the better it will cellar. This does not mean that all beers should be cellared. Many beers are best when they’re freshest. Storability increases with alcohol percentage and hop rating. We can’t think of a good reason to cellar a nice fresh beer. Drink it and buy another one. Strong complex beers however can get mellow and more complex with time. Cellar sparingly. Don’t put off good times.

Bottle Conditioning:

In general bottle conditioned beers are the best candidates for cellaring. In the simplest terms Bottle Conditioning refers to the practice of adding a bit of yeast and sugar to finished beer to add carbonation inside the bottle. There are many variations of how this can be done. Yeast eats oxygen and sugar. It secretes alcohol and carbon dioxide. Bottle conditioning replaces oxygen inside the bottle with C02. This reduces the possibility of oxidation which can make your beer taste unpleasant. A layer of sediment at the bottom of the bottle is evidence of bottle conditioning.


There are various schools of thought. Choose your own. Here are some guidelines:

Conservative: pour down the side of the glass to minimize head. This agitates the beer the least.

Liberal: Pour straight down the middle of the glass and let the beer get a big rich head. This agitates the beer the most.

Independent: Begin pouring down the side and gradually move toward the center to obtain significant agitation and solid head.

Totalitarian: Drink Straight from the Bottle.

Prudish: Stop pouring just before you reach the sediment.

Gourmet: Drink the sediment too.